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Innovation: a lever for reducing food waste

Alongside the technological revolution that’s affecting more and more aspects of our daily lives, we are waking up to the fragility of our environment and the need to protect our resources. However, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that, globally, almost one third of food intended for human consumption is thrown away, representing 1.3 billion tonnes of waste a year. In this context, innovative solutions are emerging to limit food waste and manage both surpluses and unsold products.

Déchets alimentaires

A collective challenge throughout the food chain

Food waste can be seen throughout the food chain, from farm to fork, and affects all stakeholders: producers, processors, distributors, restaurateurs and consumers. Food waste also has many causes: overproduction, calibration and appearance criteria, poor inventory management, etc.
FAO estimates put the global direct economic consequences of agricultural food waste (excluding fish and seafood) at $750 billion a year. According to French environment and energy management agency ADEME, 10 million tonnes of food are thrown away every year in France, costing an estimated €16 billion!
Thanks to technological innovation, it is now possible to develop solutions that open up the way to creating services that are more efficient and effective in terms of reducing food waste. Meanwhile, product innovation means more use can be made of by-products arising from the agri-food industry.

Combating food waste in situ: a services giant gets involved

At the VivaTech event held in Paris on 16-18 May this year, Sodexo launched its food waste reduction programme, WasteWatch, powered by start-up Leanpath. The project, which relies heavily on data analytics, is to be rolled out across 3,000 group sites over the next year.
Leanpath, based in London and Portland, has since 2004 been developing technology including a data collection platform, a data analytics module and expert coaching. According to the start-up, this approach can help users cut their food waste in half.
In practice, changes may be made to mass catering kitchen processes based on recommendations generated by Leanpath, together with behavioural changes designed to reduce food waste at sites equipped with the technology.

Reducing unsold food products: apps leading the way

OptiMiam, Too Good to Go, HopHopFood: these apps, designed to cut food waste, offer access to products at reduced prices or free of charge. The principle is simple: they connect users with retailers or private individuals and enable them to buy unsold goods or products that will not be consumed.
The best known app, Too Good to Go, was born in Denmark and has gradually expanded in Europe. It now covers 11 countries and has 8 million users who can buy unsold products from 15,000 establishments. In France alone, the company has prevented almost 6 million meals – produced by both local outlets and international groups like Accor Hotels and the Mandarin Oriental, Paris – from being thrown away.
Beyond the beneficial aspect of combating food waste, these apps also provide retailers with a way to generate value from their unsold products while enabling consumers to make savings.

Food waste recycling: multiple recovery options

While biowaste has been used to produce energy for several years, notably via methanisation, new models are emerging. In the Hauts-de-France region, for example, InnovaFeed is building a new agri-industrial plant that will use residues from the Terreos starch facility to breed insects, enabling it to produce 10,000-20,000 tonnes of protein a year to be used in fish and animal feed.
At the same time, product innovation is finding ways to recycle food waste so as to produce higher value-added foodstuffs. In the United States, for example, Misfit Juicery makes juices from 70-80% recovered fruit and vegetables, while SecondsFirst uses fishery by-products to prepare high-protein pancakes, in which it also uses outsize and aesthetically unsatisfactory vegetables that are not sold.
Lastly, product innovation can use waste recovered from the agri-food industry to create entirely new products:

  • The Coffee Cherry Company converts leftover coffee cherries into a highly nutritious flour.
  • Full Cycle Bioplastics is endeavouring to produce a biodegradable plastic from food waste or agricultural residue.

With resources becoming increasingly scarce and sustainable development increasingly prominent, the need to reduce food waste is more pressing than ever. While there is no one global solution, combining new, better thought-out approaches and new recovery methods should make it possible to significantly reduce such waste.

Arnaud Rey

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